Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Quote of the week (c. 1897)

A bit of timeless -- and timely -- wisdom, from an old standby:

"We are at present in a transition stage, nor is the manner nor occasion of the end in sight. Still this is no time to despair. I have often noticed in these Afghan valleys, that they seem to be entirely surrounded by the hills, and to have no exit. But as the column has advanced, a gap gradually becomes visible and a pass appears. Sometimes it is steep and difficult, sometimes it is held by the enemy and must be forced, but I have never seen a valley that had not a way out. That way we shall ultimately find, if we march with the firm but prudent step of men who know the dangers; but, conscious of their skill and discipline, do not doubt their ability to deal with them as they shall arise."

So wrote the 23-year-old Winston Churchill at the end of his first book, "The Story of the Malakand Field Force," recounting his adventures subduing a religiously inspired tribal uprising in the Swat and Malakand Valleys on the northwest frontier of British India. You may have heard of these places.

Frankly, the book's pretty hard to read these days without seeing a whole lot of interesting parallels and contrasts -- both sobering and emboldening -- between his situation and ours. At least it good to know that someone's been there before.


dendrobatidae said...

What a great book that is. Hard not to find so many obvious comparisons to today. I have a question. I have been trying to find a quote from that book, I could just re-read it but.... The quote was a British military officer telling a local about tradition. A local tribesmen was complaining that the Bristish were no longer allowing their tradition of burnig a man's wife when the man dies. The British officer's reply was that the British had a tradtion too and it was one of hanging any man who killed a woman. Anyone know where, what the exact quote is?

John said...

I've heard that story several times as well, but I could almost guarantee it's not from Malakand Field Force. The Malakand tribesmen were fanatical Muslims, while widow-burning was a practice of some kind of Hindu sect, I believe. Try a bit earlier in the history of the British Raj. There's a chance you might find the story in the relevant chapters of Churchill's "History of the English-Speaking Peoples.